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Monday, January 18, 2021

Mindful Changes

2020 was a tough year for the toy industry, I could tell early on that business was slowing down for the toy company I work for, international clients were closed for large portions of the year, new development pushed out to 2022, it didn't take a genius to see the writing on the wall.  We redid our personal budget in April and saved as much as we could possibly save while reducing our spending in every single category in anticipation of a salary cut.

In November 2020, I received notice that my salary would be reduced 30%, we were already living well below that number so we felt prepared to weather the storm.  I was advised to expect this to last for at least a year.  While it's hard to give up that much salary which means no savings for IRA's and less savings, I've gained an extra day off per week.  At first I wanted to make up the difference by finding other work, but in November my mom got sick with Covid, and while she did recover, she's still regaining her strength.  I found myself less motivated to find replacement work and used my day off to help her with errands and to work with the kids on their at home lessons while also getting all of us ready for Christmas.

This year I've been reading multiple financial books to see if I've missed any possible detail in our number crunching and I'm pleased to say we've done quite well.  I've been reading Frugalwoods and signed up for her January spending challenge, so far I haven't read anything new but I do find it inspiring to be reminded every day on saving money.

I think we're down to what I'd like to call "mindful changes" which are:
  • Working with the light off in front of a window that provides adequate light - I'm a total light hog, I don't like dark rooms, I turn the light on to walk down the hallway, etc.  Today I'm working with the light off, hoping to cure myself of my desire of super bright rooms.  My room has five very long windows, but it's January and overcast so it feels a bit shadowy.  
  • Shorter showers - that's a tough one, I love long showers every single day.  
  • Heater set at 65 - my preferred setting is 70, today I've added a lap blanket and am feeling quite cozy.  We keep the house thermostat at 67, but with my office/bedroom having 5 huge windows it's always a bit chilly in here.
  • Using less butter - I actually wrote a post about butter because I was so shocked at how much we were consuming, my baking habit got a bit out of control!  I'm working hard at keep it to one box per week and proud to report I've stuck with that so far.  
I'm not expecting huge changes to our bills, but every little bit helps.

Other areas I plan to tackle are:
  • Sam's Club VS Costco - on my next day off I'd like to go to Sam's Club to see if we can get everything we enjoy at Costco.  I've recently narrowed down the items I get at Costco, removing bulk butter, green beans and canned corn because they're cheaper at Aldi.  It's funny how we can get into habits just because we've done it that way for years and it takes a scrupulous willpower to go through every purchase line by line.  
    • Reasons for trying out Sam's Club - the annual membership is $20 cheaper and they are local whereas we drive 30 minutes to get to Costco, so even though we've narrowed it down to going every two months, it's still a drive we might not need to make if we can switch to Sam's Club.
    • Costco has a credit card with great money back rewards, but I want to see if we can find something that offers better rewards elsewhere.  I can't blindly accept it's the best card just because it impressed me three years ago.
  • Cell Phones - we are switching from Cricket to Tello - savings $32 per month for the same coverage, the only trick is husband needs to get a new phone that works on the Sprint network so researching options.
  • Pre-made foods - we buy many pre-made foods for lunches and sides and I'd like to replace these with more homemade and/or healthy options
    • Frozen Costco pizzas are $2.00 per pizza
    • Appetizers/Sides - Taquitos, Jalapeno Poppers, Mozzarella Sticks, Cheesy Broccoli, Madras Lentils
    • Kid lunches - Pierogis, chicken nuggets, pizza rolls
    • Canned beans - replacing all with dried beans
Last year we cut back on dining out, which was easy because we couldn't eat in restaurants due to Covid-19 so we just had to cut back on take-out.  After comparing our annual food expenses to 2019, I was aghast to see we only saved on average $20 per month on food (including dine out) in 2020, I really thought we'd done better than that.  I think we ate more pre-made foods to make up for not dining out.  This year we will beat the 2020 number as we work towards "mindful changes" in all purchases.

In summary, just because we managed to live on a budget within the 30% lower salary isn't a reason to slack off on ways to save money.  We want to increase our savings despite the salary situation and that means cutting out all unnecessary expenses.  What if a bigger salary cut comes through, well, I'd probably end up taking another day off and definitely getting a second job!  Or what if this salary cut isn't rectified?  Regardless, I remain optimistic this year will improve once people worldwide can get the vaccine, then things should slowly start going back to normal - until the next calamity!  I guess that's optimism with a dose of prepper mentality.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Random Tuesday Thoughts

 Hello to the first Tuesday of the new year!  I stayed home with my brood, as I have for the past three days.  I haven't even walked the dog due to bad weather or husband getting home at 5pm and I hate walking after dark.  

On Sunday I ran out of espresso, this is like a really big deal for me.  The only times in my life that I go without an espresso in the afternoons are when I'm sick or in China.  Regardless, I've shown incredible restraint and still stayed home to focus on getting the kids back into virtual learning and myself back to virtual work.  Husband came home today and proudly presented a bag of espresso and you'd have thought it was Valentines day already!

Prior to husband's grand entrance I decided to make due with this old can of Cafe Du Monde, it tasted like dirt, I was so confused, then I checked the bottom of the can and it's expiration date is 12/23/19.  

So I switched to tea.

That's all I got for today, but I am excited to rejoin Stacy's Random Tuesday Thoughts which she has faithfully kept going for a very long time.  Stacy, if I had a glass, right now I would toast you for your wonderful consistency.  

Monday, January 04, 2021

2021 Amaryllis

For the past two or three years my uncles from Pittsburgh would come down to visit us in the spring and fall.  Each time they bring an amaryllis for all of us.  This past year, due to the coronavirus, they sent a care package to me of six bulbs and a gift card to purchase pots and dirt then distribute them to each family member.  It was my absolute pleasure to do this.  Now my bulb has finally bloomed!  This is also my dad's favorite flower and it's his birthday month so this is like the loveliest gift for me.

Sunday, January 03, 2021


I may have overdone it on the butter.  Last weekend Mike bought two boxes, I've gone through both and almost did a panic run for more today but it was sleeting outside.  

Today's lunch menu was the following:

  • Spiral Ham - no butter
  • Cornbread Casserole - one stick
  • Butternut Squash Casserole - one stick in the casserole and 2 tablespoons in the topping, I ran out right before making the topping and had to put this in the fridge for another day 
  • Mashed Potatoes - the back up dish from not serving the Butternut Squash, but still required butter so used the spreadable kind
  • Green Beans - no butter
  • Shells and Cheese - no butter
Where did all the butter go?  I know yesterday I made more awesome pumpkin scones which take 1.5 sticks of butter.  Prior to that I have no clue.  We must use butter sticks with obscene frequency.  I should probably cut back, but it is a Covid-19 year.  We need butter laden comfort food!

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Lemon Bread

Lemon bread is perfect when I need a break from squash, chocolate, spice, and other fruit breads.  This recipe is very light and fluffy and not at all dense like a pound cake.

I probably use an excessive amount of lemon compared to most lemon bread recipes but I really want to taste it!  I love juicing fresh lemons and getting that heavenly smell in the kitchen.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt (Greek is also fine)
  • 1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil 
  • Juice of 1 lemon squeezed and strained (I know this can produce more or less depending on the lemon size but I haven't found it makes a difference)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract 
Mix above together in medium bowl.

Dry Ingredients (in Kitchen aid or large mixing bowl):
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Add wet ingredients to dry and mix until just combined.

This recipe makes one 9 x 5" pan and one mini loaf pan 5 x 3".  I had considered cutting back the recipe but the mini loaf is so special and tender.  Maybe I should just do 4 mini loaves!  I buy loaf pans from Williams Sonoma and they sell a four pack of the minis.  The goldtouch pan make exceptional bread.

After putting the mixture halfway full into each loaf pan, bake the mini for 30 minutes at 350 and the regular size for 50 minutes.

  • 1 cup confectioner sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice, strained
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Wait until bread has cooled then pour icing over tops, use a knife to gently pull bread away from the sides of the loaf pan and drizzle down the sides.  I keep my bread in the loaf container and cover with foil or put in a plastic cake saver.  

Friday, January 01, 2021


Happy New Years!  Today was a nice relaxing day spent at home.  It was raining outside with the forecast of freezing rain.  I don't go anywhere when it's freezing rain.  Once, when I was a teenager, it was freezing rain after two weeks of being snowed in.  A friend begged me to come over, said the roads would be fine and convinced me to give it a try.  My dad didn't say no, but strongly warned me to not try it.  I went anyway and slid out of the driveway and into a ditch on the other side of the road.  Classic.  My dad didn't tell me I told you so, he just got to figuring out how to get my car out and I stayed home.  Since then I stay parked at home when it's freezing rain.

Thankfully we have all that we need and had no need to go anywhere.  For our New Years celebration we made:

I also made my favorite Lemon Bread for breakfast.  January is a month where I don't have any assigned fruit or veggie to cook with so it's time to bring back the classics for a few weeks.  

Post meal we launched The Two Towers disk 1.  It's alot to get through with four kids and we do an intermission mid-way for dessert.  I think most of them are enjoying it but they did seem to respond better to the Hobbit movies.  It's fun to have epic movie nights and my brother has been been coming over to enjoy them with us.

I feel like I should say something poignant about how we are going to make this the best year and yada yada go team but I'm feeling really mello these days, and a little bit melancholy.  I really do hope and pray for the best but we're still in the midst of Covid-19 with the future feeling very uncertain.  I'd just like to say I'm super thankful for family right now and we are doing our best to make the most of our time together, with those we have left.